It is both legal and socially acceptable to have a drink with friends. When you are meeting your mates in a bar after work, gathering in the neighbour’s backyard, or joining other fans to watch your favorite team on television, alcohol promotes relaxation and feelings of companionship.
Alcohol also reduces inhibitions. Whether that is a good or a bad thing depends upon the circumstances. Unfortunately, alcohol encourages some people to express their anger in ways that lead to violence. That is particularly likely to happen after an evening of prolonged drinking.
An editorial in The Courier refers to a study by Dr. Anne Fox, a British anthropologist who investigated the causes of violence in Australia and New Zealand. Dr. Fox’s central finding is that the link between alcohol and violence is not caused by alcohol but by cultural attitudes.
Dr. Fox notes that many people around the world go out at night and enjoy their time in nightclubs without engaging in antisocial behaviour. She also suggests that alcohol does not transform even-tempered people into angry brutes. Alcohol might unleash aggression, but only in people who are already aggressive. And reduced inhibitions that result from alcohol consumption only cause people to do the things they would like to do.
The underlying message -- blame yourself, don’t blame alcohol -- might seem to serve the interests of Lion, the owner of several beer brands, including XXXX, Boags, and Tooheys. Lion commissioned the study.
Still, there is little doubt that culture plays a role in how people respond to drinking. Nobody wants to ban alcohol (least of all Lion) but neither should people tolerate excessive drinking that leads to violent confrontations. To the extent that people accept the connection between drinking and fighting as the normal way to end an evening, culture promotes alcohol-fueled violence.
The editorial makes a strong point. Laws do not change behaviour. Most Australians disapprove of drink drinking because public awareness has been raised about the danger of driving under the influence of alcohol. It is no longer socially acceptable to drive home after drinking to excess. Booze busses and “.05 laws” did not change attitudes. Australia’s culture changed because media campaigns made people understand the irresponsible risks that drivers take when they drive while under the influence of alcohol. Social acceptance of smoking has changed for the same reasons.
Reducing nighttime violence means changing the way people think about drinking. It’s fine to go out with friends and enjoy a few beers. It isn’t fine to use alcohol as an excuse for violence. Social acceptance of the link between alcohol and aggression must be replaced by social disapproval. When friends start to say “I’m not going out with you again if can’t control yourself while drinking,” perhaps people will stop using alcohol as an excuse for their antisocial behaviour.